Kaniakapupu Ruins

Not far from the center of Honolulu lies the ruins known as Kaniakapupu (Singing of the Land Shells). Not much is known about the ruins or why the site was abandoned. Once the summer palace of King Kamehameha III and Queen Kalama, now all that’s left are broken walls and piles of stones. Further down in my post you can read all about what is known about this beautiful and sacred spot. But first, I have some bad news.

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***Due to the recent vandalism of this sacred site, visitors are strictly prohibited. Anyone seen inside the watershed perimeter or attempting to enter the area will be arrested.***

When I visited the site, I’d been told by a local that it was okay for small groups to visit to pay their respects. The site is located on a restricted watershed, but he said officials were okay with the trespass because most visitors were Hawaiians paying respects or visitors who were interested in the culture of the site. I’d been nervous about going since it was a restricted area, but he assured me that since it was just me going there, that it would be okay. I saw some city workers nearby and they watched me walk in to the area, so I didn’t worry at all about being there. Now, though, due to the vandalism, anyone seen inside the perimeter of the watershed will be arrested. A Hawaii state official emailed me to ask that I remove all directions to the site in order to prevent further desecration.

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This is one of the roads I drove down to get to the site. It’s such a pretty drive. I wish I could tell you where it was, but it would tell you where the ruins are. As I’m going through this post and removing all directions for where to park, where the site is, how to access the site, and the pictures that clearly mark the entrance, tears are streaming down my face. The thoughtless, selfish, and ignorant act of one or two people has irreparably damaged this Hawaiian treasure and made it so locals cannot even go in to pay their respects to a site sacred to their culture. Whether it was a local or a tourist who defaced the ruins of Kaniakapupu, they’ve violated King Kamehameha III’s former summer home and destroyed the sanctity of the site where King Kamehameha I rested his forces during the Battle of Nu’uanu Pali. This site may not hold the importance for everyone that it does for the Hawaiian people, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to deface it.

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This is part of the path that leads to the ruins. The area is so serene and the wind through the bamboo provides a calming serenade as you walk the few short minutes to the site. It’s so sad that this beautiful and peaceful area is now being closed off to the public. It’s such a wonderful place to visit. The spirit there is strong and you can feel the sanctity of the area. I sat in the trees off to the side of Kaniakapupu for about an hour, just soaking it all in and absorbing the feeling that is there. It’s palpable, the sacredness of the ground and the trees. It brings about a feeling of humility and awe. Great things once happened there.

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You can just barely see the ruins through the trees here. I was so excited when I got my first glimpse. The pathway splits and I wasn’t sure which way to go, but another couple who came down the path said either one would take me to the ruins. The first time I went I took the path to the right. The second, to the left. Please, when you visit ancient sites, please show respect. Do not climb on the structures, no matter how crumbled and ‘ruined’ they already seem. Do not move things around. Do not dig things up. And, for heaven’s sake, do not EVER carve on them. Please be respectful. This beautiful site is now so very damaged and may never be free of the defilement that has been inflicted upon it. These marks may just seem like scratches on stone, but they are, in reality, the destruction and violation of the sanctity of a significant cultural treasure.

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My first real glimpse of the site. Kaniakapupu was originally named Luakaha (Place of Relaxation) and built sometime during the early 1840s. Nobody knows when, exactly, the palace was started or why it was abandoned, but it is known that the palace was completed in 1845 and once entertained royalty, celebrities and nobility. Even commoners were allowed to visit the summer palace on occasion. As for why or when the name what changed, there are no records.

It is believed the site was chosen because it was already sacred due to it being one of the places King Kamehameha I rested his forces during the Battle of Nu’uanu Pali in 1795. This battle is one of, if not THE, most important battles in Hawaii’s history as it was key in King Kamehameha I’s efforts to unify all of the Hawaiian Islands under one rule.

While there are no written records that indicate what land the Summer Palace encompassed, an archaeological survey done in 1999 shows the estimated extent of the grounds based on the remaining structures. The theory is that Kaniakapupu once covered 10 acres.


Records also indicate that on July 31, 1847, an estimated 10,000 people attended a luau to commemorate Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea (Restoration Day), a holiday celebrating Hawaii’s liberation from a 5-month British occupation in 1843. It is surmised that the luau was entirely outdoors and probably took place between the palace ruins and the heiau.

After 1847, there are no other mentions of this summer palace until 1874 when a drawn map of the area indicates ‘old ruin’ where the summer palace is. It is a complete mystery why the palace as abandoned so soon after it was built. With the few parts of the palace that are remaining, historians and archaeologists are working to piece together the lost history of this sacred site.

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This is the stone walk that leads to the entrance of the main house, called a heiau. Upper class and royal families had stone walkways put in front of their homes as a sign of status. These stones would have made a smooth walkway right up to the steps of a porch, had there been one. If Kaniakapupu followed Hawaiian tradition, it would have been a one-room structure with an elevated wrap-around porch that people would sit on in the evenings.

The stone you see all around the structure is basalt, volcanic rock formed from rapidly cooling lava. Hawaiian royalty, called Ali’i, had their homes built upon a layer of basalt to denote the royal status of the residence. Along with elevating the residence above that of ‘common’ homes, this material was considered sacred and only royalty could use it.

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The placard you see in front of the entrance reads:

Kaniakapupu

Summer Palace of King Kamehameha III and his Queen Kalama

Completed in 1845 it was the scene of entertainment of foreign celebrities the feasting of chiefs and commoners. The greatest of these occasions was a luau attended by an estimated ten thousand people celebrating Hawaiian Restoration Day in 1847.

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For the luau, records indicate there were two long lanais, or open-sided verandas, set on the edges of an open area. The floors were covered with rushes and they were divided into numerous booths. Before dinner, the guests were entertained with ancient games including spear-throwing, lua (the art of bone-breaking), and hakoko (wrestling). According to records, the meal was quite an event itself. Guests were treated to a lavish feast of 271 hogs, 482 large calabashes of poi, 602 chickens, 3 whole oxen, 2 barrels of salt pork, 2 barrels of biscuit, 3,125 salt fish, 1,820 fresh fish, 12 barrels of cabbage, 2 barrels of onions, 80 bunches of bananas, 55 pineapples, 10 barrels of potatoes, 55 ducks, 82 turkeys, 2,245 coconuts, 4,000 heads of taro, 180 squid, oranges, limes, grapes and various other fruits.

Seriously, thinking about eating all that food is making me feel like I’m gaining 50lbs. I can’t imagine eating all of that. But considering there were over 10,000 people, it almost doesn’t sound like there was enough.

During the feast a group of older women sat near King Kamehameha III and chanted songs in honor of him and his ancestors. Their chants included the traditional storytelling gestures of swaying arms. Once the feast was over and many of the guests had left, younger women performed traditional hula dances for the king and his remaining guests.

Wandering the grounds, it was hard to imagine where all that would have gone. But I’m guess most of the trees that are there now weren’t there at the time.

This is the left side of the heiau. According to the archaeological survey, this door would have led to a stone path that went to a detached kitchen.

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This is all that’s left of the detached kitchen site. Only one kitchen to cook a meal for 10,000 people. I’ve cooked for 30 people before in my decent-sized kitchen, which is bigger than this kitchen area. What a feat to produce that large meal from this small area. Major props to those who prepared that feast.

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This is the doorway at the back of the heiau. Traditional Hawaiian homes were built in a way to allow maximum air flow. This meant doors on all sides to let breezes carry the hot summer air out of the house, though Hawaiians spent most of their time outside since it was usually cooler out than in.

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These are a few different angles of the inside. For being a one-room home, this place is pretty big. I think it’s bigger than the apartment I currently live in.

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Looking out the front door. I wonder what the view would have been in 1845.

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It’s sad that this is all that’s left of the summer palace of Kaniakapupu. It may not have been excessively grand by our standards today when it was built, but I bet it was beautiful.

Along with the main heiau, archaeologists belive there was another heiau, but it is not known who for. Perhaps it was for all the people who looked after the royal family? The stones seen below are believed to have been part of the foundation of the unknown heiau. To the right is where archaeologists have determined a garden would have been.

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This is looking at the far side of the palace heiau from the unknown heiau. Somewhere around the area between the two heiaus, or perhaps behind them both, 10,000 people sat for a luau in 1847. Can you imagine that many people fitting in this area?

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It’s sad to me that this is all that’s left of a place that was once so important to the Hawaiian people. It’s still a sacred site, but many have forgotten about it. There are a few who still come to pay respects and leave tokens of respect at the site, but not as many as once did. I wish there were more records so we could find out what the entire site looked like and why it was abandoned. Do you have any theories as to why it was abandoned?

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19 Replies to “Kaniakapupu Ruins”

  1. LookIntoHawaii.com

    Awesome stuff here, great pics too! Would love to see the DLNR focus more on education of places like the ruins rather than trying to hide them from the public and close them off. It’s like securing your house with a screen door…that won’t stop bad people from doing bad things.

    Reply
  2. Dan Dennison

    Aloha,

    Recently the historical and culturally significant Kaniakapupu site on Oahu was defaced by vandals. The Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources issued a news release and a video news release highlighting the significance of Kaniakapupu and asking people to stay away from this site. It is in a closed watershed area and anyone caught in the area can be cited for being in a closed area.

    The news release can be found at hawaii.dlnr.gov. At the bottom of this message, you can find the links to the video news release, media clips and photographs that were picked up widely, locally and nationally.

    If your website has driving and/or hiking directions to Kaniakapupu we respectfully ask that you remove them from all references. Please help us protect King Kamehameha III’s summer palace by not leading people to Kaniakapupu.

    RESOURCES: (All video and photos courtesy: Hawaii DLNR)

    Video news release:

    HD video of Kaniakapupu and SOTs: (shot sheet attached)

    Photographs of Kaniakapupu:
    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dtirdz0704qtfj7/AAB7y5aS2PpxKFYRZKxuvpQ1a?dl=0

    With much mahalo,

    Dan Dennison
    Senior Communications Manager
    Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources
    (808) 587-0407
    dan.w.dennison@hawaii.gov

    Reply
  3. Jeanine

    Wow. This is amazing. I’d love to visit, your photos are so spectacular. I can’t even imagine seeing this in person. Maybe one day.

    Reply
  4. Nancy L.

    I hope to visit Hawaii one day soon. Your photos look so beautiful and I love that there is so much history, culture and sites to see. There seems to be so much to see and do which is great! I love the beautiful beaches, but I also like to get out there and explore! Adding this post to my bookmark!

    Reply
  5. Lee Allport

    I hope one day I get to travel and see things like these ruins in Kaniakapupu. I think it’s interesting that they built doors all around the home to carry out the heat. We have issues in Florida, we should do this.
    Lee

    Reply
  6. Kita

    I’ve always wanted to see ruins up close and personal. Hawaii is my dream vacation destination and I would definitely love to see the ruins there.

    Reply
  7. littlemisscant

    Could you google and see what they “think” the ruins may have looked like back when they were actually there? Hawaii is such a beautiful place to visit and there is so much to see. We haven’t been back since ’09 but once the island gets into your blood you can never shake it!

    Reply
    • Erin Post author

      I googled quite a bit to see if there were any renderings or historic accounts of what it looked like. All I could find were the two maps and information about the luau. Other than that it seems as if it was just abandoned and forgotten about soon after it was built. Hopefully someday they’ll unearth a record that talks more about it.

      And I completely agree with you. Hawaii has such a draw and it just gets stronger once you’ve been. I was just there last month for two weeks and I feel like there were so many things I missed. I’m already planning my next trip back there. I hope you get to go back soon.

      Reply

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